'Tis the season to be spending.
How can you do it wisely when shopping with a credit card?
By taking advantage of the special discounts and extra rewards many cards are offering during the holidays.
Depending on your gift-giving budget and year-round card use, here are some of the most enticing deals you could be taking advantage of right now.
For American Express cardholders
To promote its annual Small Business Saturday event on Nov. 24, American Express is offering a free gift to all cardholders who “shop local” for the holidays.
Register at ShopSmall.com, then use your card to charge at least $25 at a small business on Small Business Saturday, and you’ll get a $25 statement credit.
Through Nov. 30, all American Express card users get 20% off when buying specific items in its Membership Rewards holiday catalog, ranging from Bose headphones to the Wine Enthusiast’s temperature-controlled wine storage coolers.
For year-round benefits, consider American Express’s Blue Cash Preferred Card.
It pays back 6% on supermarket spending (including any gift cards from other retailers you buy at the checkout), 3% at department stores and gas stations, and 1% on everything else.
Spend $1,000 in the first three months, and receive a $150 bonus that covers two years’ worth of the card’s $75 annual fee. The APR ranges from 13% to 22%.
For travelers and electronic shoppers: Chase Freedom
If you’re planning to fly to Grandma’s house for the holidays, or your shopping list is going to take you into department stores and the electronics aisle, you can take full advantage of the Chase Freedom special offer.
Earn 5% cash back on all purchases at Best Buy and Kohl’s, plus bookings for any airline or hotel, through the end of the year.
Plus, a separate promotion with Kohl's lets Chase cardholders earn 10% of their purchases back as Ultimate Rewards credits when shopping through the Ultimate Rewards website.
Chase will let you stack both rebates for a total of 15% cash back on your first $1,500 spent at any Kohl's store. The APR ranges from 13% to 23%.
For big spenders: Chase Sapphire
If you’ve got a big budget for gift-buying this season, you can quickly rack up the cash or bonus points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
Charge $3,000 in the first three months, and you get 40,000 bonus points. Then you can redeem those for $400 in credit — perfect for lowering your gift-shopping bill — or $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase.
The card is worth holding onto after the holidays, especially if you’re planning a winter vacation, as you can earn two points per dollar spent on travel and at restaurants (one point per dollar for everything else), plus an additional point per dollar when booking airfare and hotel accommodations through Chase.
The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, and the APR is 15.24%.
For smaller spenders: Citi Forward
If, like most people, you have to watch your shopping budget, you can still earn something extra via the Citi Forward card.
Spend $650 in the first three months, and you’ll earn 10,000 ThankYou points, which you can then turn into $100 in gift cards.
Earn five ThankYou points for every $1 you spend on restaurants and entertainment (including gifts you buy at book and music stores, and gift certificates at movie theaters), one point per dollar on everything else.
The APR ranges from 13% to 23%, depending on your credit score, but Citi Forward does reward good cardholders with a lower interest rate.
Make a purchase, stay under your credit limit and pay at least your minimum payment on time three months in a row, and your APR can be reduced by up to 2 percentage points at year’s end.
For those who don’t want to pay interest right away: Citi Diamond Preferred
If you need a few extra months to pay off your holiday expenses, cards that charge little or no interest work best.
The Citi Diamond Preferred charges 0% APR on new purchases for the first 18 months (then the APR ranges from 12% to 22%) and never charges an annual fee.
This card’s perks will appeal to people who like to travel and nights on the town. You get personal concierge service for booking hotel rooms, flights and concerts, and you get updates for ticket presales, preferred seating and VIP entertainment packages.
For online shoppers who want free shipping: Discover More
The Discover More card is offering a 5% rebate on the first $1,500 of department store and online purchases, now through year’s end.
If you’re not a fan of Black Friday shopping, you can shop online in your pajamas, and Discover will treat you to free next-day shipping for Amazon.com purchases through Dec. 15.
You can also shop online at ShopDiscover.com and earn bonus rebates from 5% to 20%.
For shoppers loyal to a specific store
If you want to do most of your shopping at a particular store, it may be worth checking whether that retailer offers a credit card and if it’s featuring any holiday-specific deals.
One that’s doing both is J.C. Penney, which is offering 20% off apparel, shoes, handbags and jewelry, and 10% off fine jewelry, watches and home goods. The offers are good for the day you’re approved for the account.
While you can cross a lot off your gift list and save, be aware that the card’s APR is a high 26%.
It’s also wise to remember that for any card you use to charge during the holidays, especially reward cards.
Carrying a balance probably will negate any reward program the card has to offer you, so aim to pay the full amount each billing cycle so that your savings won’t be eaten up by interest charges.
If you're budgeting wisely and spending within your means, your cash rebates and instant discounts should more than make up for any annual fees. That can equal a pretty good holiday gift for yourself.